The Curse of the Courier

The History page of Historic Oregon Newspapers online provides essays for each title in the collection describing the unique history, content and context in which each newspaper was produced. Several new essays, written by our ODNP Essayist and graduate student in the University of Oregon’s Historic Preservation program, Emily Vance, have just been added to the site, covering many of the Oregon City titles and others that have recently been added to the database. While researching the history of the Oregon City Courier, Emily began to notice an eerie trend amongst the paper’s many editors over time. In what seems to be the beginning of an “X-Files” of sorts for Oregon’s historic newspapers, Emily shares the secrets that she uncovered in her debut blog post, “The Curse of the Courier!”

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The Oregon City Courier has a long and intriguing history in the state.  We have the advantage of being able to look back at one of the very first issues in 1883 and follow the paper’s transformation over time, which was suspicious to say the least.  During its 67 years in print, the Courier changed names and editors perhaps a little too frequently.  From 1902 to 1919, when the turnover rate for the Courier was at its peak, the paper was replacing its editor about every two years.  Not long after leaving the paper, several of the Courier’s editors would fall victim to mysterious illnesses or bizarre accidents.  Suicide, social scandals and even exploding coffee pots seemed to be drawn to editors-past.  Perhaps it was being passed around so much, the ever-changing names and owners, that left the Courier feeling abandoned, unwanted and, ultimately, vengeful.  Perhaps it was the ghost of President William McKinley who came back to haunt the men who so harshly criticized him, hoping that maybe next time they’ll put the assassination of a president on the front page and not on page six, crammed between advertisements for Castoria Digestive Syrup and fur coats:

Clipping shows a brief mention of the assassination of President McKinley, on page six between advertisements for Castoria and Furs.

Hail to the Chief?
Oregon City courier=herald. (Oregon City, Or.) 1898-1902, September 20, 1901, Image 6. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn00063697/1901-09-20/ed-1/seq-6/

What was lurking in the pages of the Courier?  What could explain the mysterious circumstances surrounding the lives and deaths of the Courier’s editors in the early 1900s?

Our story begins on April 15, 1904 when John H. Westover, after only two years at the helm of the Oregon City Courier, innocently sold the paper to Shirley Buck and Professor Henry L. McCann.  Westover had only just moved to Oregon and after resigning his post, immediately left the state for reasons unknown.  McCann and Buck remained for a very short time as well, and both left the paper in 1906.  In 1910, only a handful of years after leaving the Courier, McCann was found dead “by the side of a deserted cabin in a lonely canyon” a few miles outside of Condon, a gunshot blow to his head.  He had committed suicide after scandalous accusations arose while he was principal at Gilliam County High School, a post he had taken after leaving the Courier.  Rumors of McCann being “mentally unbalanced” surrounded his death, but no such charges of mental deficiency surfaced before his work at the Courier.

Erring Principal Committs Suicide. Discovery of His Unbecoming Conduct Too Much for H.L. McCann.

One editor’s unfortunate fate…
Morning Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) 1861-1937, June 01, 1910, Image 5. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1910-06-01/ed-1/seq-5/

After McCann and Buck, editorship passed to Edward Brodie and A. E. Frost.  After hitting the two year mark, they, too, turned the paper over to the next unsuspecting editor, William A. Shewman, who took charge in 1908.  Shewman would remain at the Courier for three years – a year longer than most – which may have been his undoing.  Shewman left in 1911, at which point his health declined sharply.  Shewman would never recover after working at the Courier and passed away in 1913 after battling a long and serious illness.

W.A. Shewman's Death Peaceful. Well known publisher dies late Monday afternoon in Portland.

Morning enterprise. (Oregon City, Or.) 1911-1933, April 22, 1913, Image 1. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn00063701/1913-04-22/ed-1/seq-1/

M. J. Brown replaced Shewman in 1911. Instead of resigning his post at the two year mark, the Courier had something else in store for Brown.  In 1913, Brown was indicted for criminal libel due to matters printed in the June 27th issue of the Courier.  The scandal involved Brown publishing allegations that several county officials rebated their own taxes.  Despite the rather unexciting criminal delinquency, Brown remained at the helm of the Courier until February 18, 1915, at which point he sold the paper – two years after his indictment.  His four years as editor is truly a remarkable feat but one which must have surely left him mad, since he immediately left town after selling the paper, never to be seen again.  Well, at least for several years.  More reliable sources indicate that he actually just moved to Corvallis to start a poultry farm.

Rebating their own taxes. In last month's county court expenses we find three interesting items under tax rebates: W.T. Mattoon...$20.20, N. Blair...$14.30, R.B. Beatie...$4.00. The above rebates are to the three members of the county court, audited by themselves.

Scandalous!
Oregon City courier. (Oregon City, Or.) 1902-1919, June 27, 1913, Image 1. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn00063698/1913-06-27/ed-1/seq-1/

E. R. Brown, unrelated to M. J. Brown, purchased the paper in 1915 but, unsurprisingly, wouldn’t last a year in charge, and Cecil W. Robey was the editor and business manager in 1916.  By 1919 when the Courier was printing as the Banner-Courier, Fred J. Tooze and Halbert E. Hoss replaced Robey as editor.  Robey, however, wouldn’t get off that easy as the Courier was merely biding its time.  The year after leaving the Courier, Robey would fall victim to an “exploding coffee pot” while camping in Molalla country; a bewildering event.  The “air tight coffee pot filled with boiling coffee, and the force of the explosion caused the pot to fly into the air, the cover striking Robey in the face, while the hot coffee poured over his face and clothing.”  Robey, who was thrown “head over heels,” very nearly lost his sight  and suffered bad burns on his face and body.

seq-2

The Curse strikes again!
Morning Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) 1861-1937, June 09, 1920, Image 2. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1920-06-09/ed-1/seq-2/

In 1924 Edward A. Koen purchased the paper.  E. A. Koen, along with his son Edward P. Koen, would edit and publish the newspaper for the next 26 years.  The name and editor wouldn’t change for decades.  This consistency seems to have appeased the Courier since, it would seem, no ill befell the Koens for decades.  It appears the Curse of the Courier is broken… for now.

–Written by Emily Vance

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